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Why are seven of the world’s top ten aerospace companies investing in Wales? And what role do SMEs play in the Welsh aerospace and defence supply chain?
These are just some of the questions addressed at the second annual Aerospace Wales Expo, held on 9th December at Coleg Cambria, Connah’s Quay. Around 100 exhibitors and over 300 delegates gathered for a thought-provoking series of presentations and a chance to meet with buyers and end-users face-to-face.
Building on the success of the inaugural event at AMRC Cymru two years ago, the Expo featured keynote speakers from four of the major manufacturers based in Wales, an intense session of one-to-one ‘Meet the Buyer’ appointments, and a Capability Showcase exhibition focusing on innovation, engineering, and technology transfer.
With breakout sessions on supply chain opportunities and a chance to explore Coleg Cambria’s new, state-of-the-art Digital Skills Factory, the Expo proved highly popular with both existing suppliers and those looking to enter this attractive sector.
A centre for excellence
“For just 5% of the UK’s population, Wales boasts 10% of the country’s aerospace industry and a staggering 20% of its Maintenance, Repair and Overhaul (MRO) work,” explained Aerospace Wales Forum CEO John Whalley in his opening speech.
This equates to more than 23,000 people employed in the manufacturing, supply, and maintenance of civil and military aircraft from around the world – making the Welsh aerospace sector a diverse and dynamic growth industry which spends millions in the UK’s supply chain every year.
And as the industry recovers from the pandemic, engaging with new suppliers from across Wales and the UK will be vital for the key players in Wales’ aerospace and defence ecosystem.
As Airbus’ Public Affairs lead for Wales, Helen Swift, pointed out, the manufacturer expects to see a 75% increase in client-led demand. To achieve its objectives, Airbus will tap into the capability of its 2,300 UK-based suppliers, half of which are SMEs. Over the past ten years, the company has invested more than £2 billion in its wing manufacturing facility in Broughton, North Wales.
“Since the last Expo, demand has grown significantly,” said Prof. Ed Rochead from the Defence Science and Technology Laboratory (Dstl). “To meet this demand, we need to continue expanding and diversifying our supply chain. With its impressive skills base and talent, the North Wales region is of great interest to us.”
In the South, Thales’ National Digital Exploitation Centre (NDEC) is repositioning the company’s Ebbw Vale site as a global player in the cyber industry. Meanwhile, BAE Systems Land UK’s Glascoed facility in Monmouthshire will rely on the UK’s agile supply chain to develop new products and processes in the coming years. As Principal Technologist Andy Burn explained, the site employs around 500 people from across the region.
Showcasing innovation in Wales
“2021 has been a challenging year, but our industry has shown a huge amount of resilience,” said Aerospace Wales Forum’s John Whalley. “We are gearing up not only for recovery in the aerospace and aviation sectors, but also for driving the innovation to support new developments in Space Wales and Future Flight Wales, to enable us to meet the challenges and opportunities of climate change.”
Lisa Jones-Taylor, Managing Director of co-organiser Nu-Tech Exhibitions + Events, added: “It’s clear to us that despite the complications surrounding the pandemic, delegates and participating exhibitors were still keen to interact in a safe face-to-face environment.
“This is where contacts can be made, discussions can be held, and equipment can be demonstrated – all of which is the precursor of supporting UK industry.”
The event also benefitted from the support of several Aerospace Wales members, including platinum supporters Airbus, BAE Systems, Thales and Dstl.
Airbus’ Helen Swift, a long-standing Aerospace Wales Ambassador, said: “As the beating heart of Wales’ aerospace industry, Airbus was proud to sponsor the Aerospace Wales Expo 2021.
“The event provided the ideal opportunity for Airbus to share the future technology requirements and supply chain partnership opportunities across our Commercial Aircraft, Defence & Space and Helicopters divisions. The ‘Meet the Buyer’ sessions were particularly useful for Airbus to understand the wider breadth of business within the region and connect with potential suppliers.”
Reflecting on the event’s success, Robert Hodges, Cyber and Defence Lead for Thales, explained: “The Expo was a priceless opportunity to engage with supply chain companies of all shapes and sizes, as we continue to grow our presence in Wales. The event enabled us all to understand more about each other’s hopes and aspirations, and showcased the truly innovative capabilities Wales has to offer.”
Exhibitors have described the Expo as a “fantastic place to showcase products and services to major players in the industry,” and said the event enabled them to “catch up with existing customers” and “make connections from other market segments which can prove very fruitful in the future.”
Gavin Crimmings, Head of Engineering for BAE Systems Land UK, concluded: “The Aerospace Wales Forum has provided us with a great opportunity to engage with a range of businesses across the UK, and seek opportunities to promote manufacturing in Wales.”
Thanks to Nu-Tech, Coleg Cambria, as well as hundreds of exhibitors and delegates, the Welsh aerospace and defence industry has once again united to give the occasion a real buzz of excitement and unlock valuable supply chain opportunities in every segment.